In November 2006, I had the opportunity to shadow Academy Award winning writer/director Paul Haggis on his new film, In the Valley of Elah, which is based on a true life story of a young soldier, Richard Davis, who returns to the U.S. from the Iraq war only to be killed by his co-soldiers.
It was filmed largely in Albuquerque, N.M. where there is a large Veteran's Association Hospital. We moved throughout the city shooting on location and I met many young soldiers who had been on multiple tours of duty in Iraq. Some had been physically injured and were trying to adapt to life without a leg, or various other physical ailments. Others, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, were trying to cope with the emotional impact of war, which is far more insidious. PTSD plays out in the form of alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts and wife abuse. I witnessed all. I looked into the eyes of these 20-something boys and girls and saw how their lives were destroyed by the war.
When I arrived in Albuquerque I had a similar perspective to Conservative MP Laurie Hawn: these people chose to be soldiers and fight in the war; they were not drafted. But my perspective changed when I met the soldiers.
Many of these kids choose the military to support their young families and build a life. Many did not have the education to find another job or the financial resources to start their own businesses. U.S. patriotism tells them that they are doing the right thing by serving their country and acting bravely. Signing up was acceptable and honorable.
But their personal experiences in war led them to question their own actions. They understood the human cost on the Iraqi side and also the affect on their own families. They should have been supported and permitted to leave the military. Instead most were forced back for a second or third tour. The American soldiers who have come to our country have done so for the most honourable reasons – to not participate in a needless war – and yet now we are penalizing them. They deserve our support. The Canadian people's voice must be heard.
Dawn Kuisma, Toronto
Many thanks to Ms Kuisma for sharing her experience and the evolution of her thought. If you haven't seen "In The Valley of Elah," it is an excellent movie - very disturbing, in an important way.